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Opposition to new Orchid Publix mounts among island neighbors


A growing group of Old Orchid residents say they and many of their neighbors oppose Publix’s plan to build a supermarket in Orchid, adjacent to their community, and add they they’re worried their voices won’t matter – because they’re not town residents.

“I can’t speak for the whole neighborhood, but a lot of us here are not real pleased by this proposal,” Old Orchid resident Susan Shea said. “And some of us would like to express our opposition. But I keep hearing this is up to the (Orchid) Town Council and that we have no say.

“How can we have no say when this property abuts our community and we’re definitely going to be impacted by what goes in there? That’s unbelievable.”

But also true.

The seven-acre parcel on which a relatively small Publix would be built is entirely within Orchid’s town limits, even though the site is just west of the southwest sector of Old Orchid, a 100-home, gated community located in an unincorporated area of Indian River County.

Thus, residents of Old Orchid, along with those across the street in The Seasons at Orchid as well as other nearby communities, have no voice in town matters – or the decision about whether to proceed with a major construction project on their borders.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Orchid Town Manager Noah Powers said, “but, ultimately, it’s the Town Council’s call.”

Stan Boling, the county’s community development director, agreed with Powers’ assessment, saying, “The town has its own zoning department and Local Planning Agency, and the decision rests with the Orchid Town Council. The county has no jurisdiction there.”

The county’s input would come only if Publix moves forward and the project requires changes to the traffic infrastructure, such as installing a signal and turning lane, along County Road 510, locally known as Wabasso Road.

Boling suggested that people who live just outside Orchid and are opposed to the proposal – a Publix-anchored strip mall with five other stores – actively participate in the decision-making process by attending any relevant public hearings and expressing their concerns.

Earlier this month, several Old Orchid and Seasons residents were in the crowd of more than 100 people who attended Publix’s presentation of its preliminary plans to the Orchid Town Council.

Many of them questioned Publix and town officials about the potential negative impacts a supermarket in that location would have on their communities, especially from increased traffic on 510 as well as signage and the intrusive aura of parking-lot lighting.

Other issues mentioned included noise, security, stormwater management, aesthetics and the impact on Jungle Trail, which some said could see increased traffic from shoppers who live either to the north or south and could use the scenic, unpaved road as a cut-through to avoid backups at the intersection of 510 and State Road A1A.

“If you live at Windsor, you come out of the parking lot, take a left turn onto Jungle Trail, drive up two miles, then take a right and go out on A1A, a little south of your gate,” Old Orchid resident David Fischer said. “You’ll see a lot more traffic on Jungle Trail, especially during the season.

“How can more traffic on Jungle Trail not be a negative?”

One of Fischer’s Old Orchid neighbors, Dave Giesen, lives on West Maiden Court, where his home backs up to Jungle Trail, not far from the proposed Publix site.

In interviews and email exchanges with Vero Beach 32963, he said a supermarket would damage the tranquil feel of the surrounding community.

“Many of us purchased homes here because of the character of the area,” Giesen wrote in one email. “We are generally fearful of the implications this proposed project would have on the peace and serenity we enjoy today.”

He later said in an interview: “I didn’t come here to have a supermarket 1,800 feet away. We wanted the house we bought because it abuts Jungle Trail, because of the setting.”

Giesen said more than 100 homes in Old Orchid are within 2,000 feet of the proposed Publix complex and argued that these homeowners will be impacted by the “noise, traffic and environmental degradation associated with a loading dock, truck traffic and the general ins and outs to the site.”

He said he cannot understand why Orchid officials who rejected two “more fitting” proposals – the Town Council voted down plans for a courtyard town-home community in 2011 and an upscale senior living facility in 2016 – now seem so open to a more disruptive use of the land.

“Why now? Why this?” Giesen said. “After all the other things that could’ve gone in there, the town is going to approve this?”

Though Publix has a contract to purchase the property from Vero Beach developer Ken Puttick, who submitted the previous two plans rejected by the town, Orchid officials haven’t approved anything yet.

In fact, Powers said the town won’t take further action on the matter until Publix decides whether to pursue the project and submits the necessary application.

“The ball is in their court, and they’re still doing their due diligence,” Powers said last week. “Right now, there’s no time frame, though I imagine we’ll hear something in the next few months.

“If Publix decides to move forward, they’ll present their plans to our Local Planning Agency,” he added. “And if the LPA recommends approval, it goes to the Town Council.”

However, the LPA and Town Council do not meet during the summer, so any plans submitted by Publix won’t be considered until the fall. Consideration of those plans, Powers said, would include quasi-judicial public hearings before both the LPA and Town Council.

With a standing-room-only crowd attending the April 4 Town Council meeting, Publix representatives outlined their plans to build a 31,000-square-foot supermarket, along with five other stores, on the parcel across from Fire Station No. 11.

Some opponents of the proposal said the plans Publix representatives put forth at the meeting differed from the upscale, boutique-style market previously presented to town officials.

Instead, the supermarket would be merely a smaller version of a typical Publix and anchor a strip mall, though the architectural design of the development would reflect a West Indies theme consistent with the Orchid area.

The tallest part of the building would be 32 feet, and the property would be extensively landscaped to create buffers that would screen the shopping area from adjacent neighborhoods.

Also, the Publix would face north – toward the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club’s golf course – with the rear of the supermarket backing up to 510 and the parking lot in front.

“There are going to be lights all over the place, and those 50-foot-high lights will throw off an aura of light in every direction,” said Fischer, a lawyer and realtor. “You combine that with the traffic and noise, and what is that going to do to property values around here?”

Fischer also wondered about Publix’s change of plan.

“After town officials first met with Publix, it was supposed to be a small, boutique-type grocery store that would not look like a regular Publix,” he said. “Then, at the meeting, they said, ‘No, it’s going to be a Publix.’ That raises a red flag for me.

“Did they think saying it would be a boutique-type store would make it easier to get community support?” he added. “Was it a bait-and-switch? And now it’s a strip mall with five other businesses? What are we supposed to believe?

“Maybe they figure a stand-alone Publix won’t do enough business to sustain itself on a year-round basis, so they’ll need the rent from the other stores.”

The question of whether a Publix in Orchid could generate enough business during the slow, summer months in such a seasonal community was brought up at the meeting.

Publix already has one supermarket less than three miles away on the mainland at U.S. 1 and Barber Street in Sebastian, and another one less than six miles away on U.S. 1 and 53rd Street in Vero Beach.

“Everybody likes Publix, but do we really need another one?” Old Orchid resident Kathy Ryan said. “It takes five minute to get to the store in Sebastian, and there’s another one down the road in Vero. Aren’t they worried about cannibalizing their other two stores?”

Powers said Publix management wouldn’t pursue the project unless it believed it would make money.

According to Ryan, Fischer, Giesen and Shea, most of their neighbors share their concerns and are opposed to the proposal.

Shea said there was “a lot of dissension in the crowd” at the Town Council meeting, where she also heard from “quite a few Seasons residents who weren’t happy with what they heard.”

“Everybody I’ve talked to is against it,” Fischer said, “and that includes some people from Orchid Island I’ve bumped into.”

Powers, however, played down the opposition voiced at the meeting, saying much of the feedback from town residents has been positive.

“How do you know the people outside the town don’t want it?” Powers said. “Have you asked people in Indian River Shores? At John’s Island? At Windsor?

“There were, maybe, 100 people at the meeting, and only 14 spoke against it, and half of them were from outside of Orchid,” he added. “If that’s a barometer, that’s a good meeting.”

Fischer said he’s hoping the homeowners associations at Old Orchid, The Seasons and other nearby communities will formally oppose the Publix project and, possibly, present a united front.

Should Publix decide to move forward and the project gets town approval, Fischer said residents of the outside-the-town communities have another option: They could go to court.

“Since we’d be directly affected by the project, we would have a private cause of action and we could sue by claiming a nuisance,” he said. “But, hopefully, it won’t come to that.

“As people are finding out more information, the opposition is getting more vocal and organized.”